The One-Eyed Man / by Tom Maloney

“Jesus, I hope they got a ’25 Dodge.’’ Behind the shed a door banged. A specter of a man came through the dark shed. Thin, dirty, oily skin tight against stringy muscles. One eye was gone, and the raw, uncovered socket squirmed with eye muscles when his good eye moved. His jeans and shirt were thick and shiny with old grease, and his hands cracked and lined andcut. His heavy, pouting underlip hung out sullenly. Tom asked, “You the boss?’’ The one eye glared. “I work for the boss,’’ he said sullenly. “Whatcha want?” “Got a wrecked ’25 Dodge? We need a con-rod.’’ “I don’t know. If the boss was here he could tell ya— but he ain’t here. He’s went home.’’ “Can we look an’ see?’’ The man blew his nose into the palm of his hand and wiped his hand on his trousers. “You from hereabouts?’’ “Come from east— goin’ west.’’ “Look aroun’ then. Burn the goddamn place down, for all I care.’’ “Looks like you don’t love your boss none.’’ The man shambled close, his one eye flaring. “I hate ’im,’’ he said softly. “I hate the son-of-a-bitch! Gone home now. Gone home to his house.’’ The words fell stumbling out. “He got a way— he got a way a-pickin’ a fella an’ a-tearin’ a fella. He— the son-of-a-bitch. Got a girl nineteen, purty. Says to me, ‘How’d ya like ta marry her?’ Says that right to me. An’ tonight— says, ‘They’s a dance; how’d ya like to go?’ Me, he says it to me!’’ Tears formed in his eye and tears dripped from the corner of the red eye socket.

“Some day, by God— some day I’m gonna have a pipe wrench in my pocket. When he says them things he looks at my eye. An’ I’m gonna, I’m gonna jus’ take his head right down off his neck with that wrench, little piece at a time.’’ He panted with his fury. “Little piece at a time, right down off’n his neck.’’ The sun disappeared behind the mountains. Al looked into the lot at the wrecked cars. “Over there, look, Tom! That there looks like a ’25 or ’26.’’ Tom turned to the one-eyed man. “Mind if we look?’’ “Hell, no! Take any goddamn thing you want.’’ They walked, threading their way among the dead automobiles, to a rusting sedan, resting on flat tires. “Sure it’s a ’25,’’ Al cried. “Can we yank off the pan, mister?’’ Tom kneeled down and looked under the car. “Pan’s off awready. One rod’s been took. Looks like one gone.’’ He wriggled under the car. “Get a crank an’ turn her over, Al.’’ He worked the rod against the shaft. “Purty much froze with grease.’’ Al turned the crank slowly. “Easy,’’ Tom called. He picked a splinter of wood from the ground and scraped the cake of grease from the bearing and the bearing bolts. “How is she for tight?’’ Al asked. “Well, she’s a little loose, but not bad.’’

“Well, how is she for wore?’’ “Got plenty shim. Ain’t been all took up. Yeah, she’s O.K. Turn her over easy now. Get her down, easy— there! Run over the truck an’ get some tools.’’ The one-eyed man said, “I’ll get you a box a tools.’’ He shuffled off among the rusty cars and in a moment he came back with a tin box of tools. Tom dug out a socket wrench and handed it to Al. “You take her off. Don’ lose no shims an’ don’ let the bolts get away, an’ keep track a the cotter-pins. Hurry up. The light’s gettin’ dim.’’ Al crawled under the car. “We oughta get us a set a socket wrenches,’’ he called. “Can’t get in no place with a monkey wrench.’’ “Yell out if you want a hand,’’ Tom said. The one-eyed man stood helplessly by. “I’ll help ya if ya want,’’ he said. “Know what that son-of-a-bitch done? He come by an’ he got on white pants. An’ he says, ’Come on, le’s go out to my yacht.’ By God, I’ll whang him some day!’’ He breathed heavily. “I ain’t been out with a woman sence I los’ my eye. An’ he says stuff like that.’’ And big tears cut channels in the dirt beside his nose. Tom said impatiently, “Whyn’t you roll on? Got no guards to keep ya here.’’ “Yeah, that’s easy to say. Ain’t so easy to get a job— not for a one-eye’ man.’’

Tom turned on him. “Now look-a-here, fella. You got that eye wide open. An’ ya dirty, ya stink. Ya jus’ askin’ for it. Ya like it. Lets ya feel sorry for yaself. ’Course ya can’t get no woman with that empty eye flap-pin’ aroun’. Put somepin over it an’ wash ya face. You ain’t hittin’ nobody with no pipe wrench.’’ “I tell ya, a one-eye’ fella got a hard row,’’ the man said. “Can’t see stuff the way other fellas can. Can’t see how far off a thing is. Ever’thing’s jus’ flat.’’ Tom said, “Ya full a crap. Why, I knowed a one-legged whore one time. Think she was takin’ two-bits in a alley? No, by God! She’s gettin’ half a dollar extra. She says, ‘How many one-legged women you slep’ with? None!’ she says. ’O.K.,’ she says. ‘You got somepin pretty special here, an’ it’s gonna cos’ ya half a buck extry.’ An’ by God, she was gettin’ ’em, too, an’ the fellas comin’ out thinkin’ they’re pretty lucky. She says she’s good luck. An’ I knowed a hump-back in— in a place I was. Make his whole livin’ lettin’ folks rub his hump for luck. Jesus Christ, an’ all you got is one eye gone.’’ The man said stumblingly, “Well, Jesus, ya see somebody edge away from ya, an’ it gets into ya.’’ “Cover it up then, goddamn it. Ya stickin’ it out like a cow’s ass. Ya like to feel sorry for yaself. There ain’t nothin’ the matter with you. Buy yaself some white pants. Ya gettin’ drunk an’ cryin’ in ya bed, I bet. Need any help, Al?’’ “No,’’ said Al. “I got this here bearin’ loose. Jus’ tryin’ to work the piston down.’’

“Don’ bang yaself,’’ said Tom. The one-eyed man said softly, “Think— somebody’d like— me?’’ “Why, sure,’’ said Tom. “Tell ’em ya dong’s growed sence you los’ your eye.’’ “Where at you fellas goin’?’’ “California. Whole family. Gonna get work out there.’’ “Well, ya think a fella like me could get work? Black patch on my eye?’’ “Why not? You ain’t no cripple.’’ “Well— could I catch a ride with you fellas?’’ “Christ, no. We’re so goddamn full now we can’t move. You get out some other way. Fix up one a these here wrecks an’ go out by yaself.’’ “Maybe I will, by God,’’ said the one-eyed man.

Steinbeck, John (2006-03-28). The Grapes of Wrath (pp. 210-211). Penguin Publishing Group.